About a decade ago major electricity suppliers advertised with pictures of solar hot water heaters falling through the roof and hot water scorching those below. The intended message was that solar was evil and that it was safer to stay with electric hot water. How times have changed, and now ‘green’ anything is used to gain market advantage.
Social circumstances (demographics) have also changed. It used to take 10+ years to gain the long term benefits of cheap solar hot water because of the greater capital cost of the system. People used to move house every few years so this strategy just didn’t add up for many people. It is now so costly to build or move that the sheer economics to stay put and do a major renovation are more likely than before.
The Federal Government will also now give you a handsome rebate on the cost of an ‘alternate’ system. This is because these systems save huge amounts of greenhouse gasses going into the atmosphere and it is ultimately cheaper to give you a money incentive to use these systems rather than pay to alleviate or fix up the impacts of those gasses later on. For example, a comparison of greenhouse gas emissions for various systems (as equivalent tonnes of Co2 per annum, based on emissions over 15 years) is approximately 40 tonne for a 250 litre electric hot water system; 18 tonne for a heat pump; 10 tonne for a gas system; and 5 tonne for a solar system. The message is now clear that standard electric hot water systems are still cheap to buy but are more expensive in the long term to you, and to the government.
Even though solar or other alternate systems are now a requirement for new homes, there are other practical reasons why these are suddenly desirable. To the householder there is a continued saving of up to 85% off the usual hot water bill, which is significant when hot water accounts for around 40% of the total annual energy bill. However, many households still don’t maximise the use of their systems. Workplace norms will have your plumber insisting that you can’t use your solar hot water in your dishwasher but if you keep looking to the fine print in the installation manual you will probably find that it is indeed possible.
Other misconceptions abound. Solar hot water systems do not ‘run out’ of hot water and in fact there is a whole range of solar/gas/electric combinations to choose from, as well as heat pumps. This also dispels the myths about not providing hot water around trees, in winter, or when it rains. Modern roofs require no extra reinforcing for the system and the actual tank can be located on the roof as a thermosyphon system or on the ground as a split system. The solar collector will be more efficient if it faces to the north but even on the wrong side of the roof it will still operate satisfactorily. Installations costs will not increase with a massive ‘crane’ to lift the system onto the roof since this is generally accomplished with a small rig on the back of the delivery truck. Solar hot water systems are built to Australian Standards like all other systems, and like all other systems they do not leak. In fact, their build quality is generally better and the life expediencies of the systems (as opposed to most other disposable goods) are actually getting longer, now past the 20 year mark!
Finally, it is a misconception for me and everybody else to be calling these ‘alternate’ systems. The State says you must use these in new homes and the Federal Government will give you a chunk of money to help fund your purchase. It is actually a ‘bonus’ that you will be doing something good for the environment. Yes, you are given money up front, you continue to save money, you are doing something good for the environment, and this continues for 20 years… is this a myth?